Winning memoir by a Sufi rock musician determined to encourage harmony between the West and the Muslim world.
Now in his mid-40s, Ahmad grew up in a privileged family in Lahore, Pakistan, attended an elite school and in 1978 joined his first rock band as a Beatles-loving teenager in suburban Tappan, N.Y. His father was an airline executive, his paternal grandfather secretary to the governor of Punjab. Early on, he writes, he decided he wanted no part of being elite if it meant keeping the poor down. At 18, he returned with his family to a Pakistan ruled by a dictator who considered Western rock sinful. When student extremists disrupted his performance with a Lahore high-school band, Ahmad vowed to “wage a rock and roll jihad” to encourage “a cosmic oneness that sees no cultural boundaries.” He later graduated from medical school but has never practiced. The book traces his rise to fame as a member of two of South Asia’s most popular rock groups—Vital Signs and Junoon—and his intense quest for meaning through musical exploration. He describes his friendship with Pakistani cricket star Imran Khan and the evening he took American cricket fan Mick Jagger on a visit to Lahore’s red-light district to see the dancing girls. Ahmad evokes life in Pakistan under recent repressive regimes and shows how both rock music and cricket served as outlets for young people yearning for freedom and democracy. By the late ’90s, Ahmad reached a worldwide audience with his present band, Junoon, which the New York Times’s Jon Pareles called “an Asian answer to Santana.” The group toured the United States and performed at the General Assembly of the United Nations, where Ahmad now serves as a goodwill ambassador. Taking his credo from the Sufi maxim “When you see with the heart, all the masks fall down,” Ahmad has worked to improve relations between Pakistan and India, and in 2008 he wrote the peace song “Ring the Bells” with Melissa Etheridge, who provides the book’s introduction.
Heartfelt and inspiring.